Ollantaytambo

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We spent a few nights in Ollantaytambo around our visit to Machu Picchu. Since we’d been hiking quite a bit, we ended up using some of this time to rest before more hikes. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a fun New Year’s Day tradition on our first day. We also discovered that because it was a holiday, many businesses were closed, leaving us puzzled about how to pick up food to take with us to Machu Picchu the next day, but in the end it worked out.

We had a couple of nice lunches here, including pizza at Kutimuy on the Plaza de Armas (the farthest left restaurant when looking at the string of pizzerias that face the plaza) and sandwiches at La Esquina (also on the Plaza de Armas). We also enjoyed a delicious banana chocolate chip muffin and chocolate chip cookies from La Esquina on a hike later.

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And after having seen chocla con queso (boiled corn with a slice of Andean cheese) a couple of times in Pisac but missing the opportunity to try it, we finally found some in Ollantaytambo near the train station. It was awesome. I actually would have really enjoyed the corn on its own, but periodically taking bites of the cheese gave a nice salty touch that brought out the subtle sweetness of the corn.

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We also had a nice dinner at El Huakatay. I’m sure it’s frequented by tourists more often than locals given that it was connected to our hostel, but I enjoyed getting to try roasted corn, Huakatay sauce, and muña tea there and I appreciated their thoughtfulness in bringing out a Huakatay leaf for me to see when I asked what Huakatay sauce was made of.

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We hiked some beautiful Inca ruins on both sides of the town. On one side are the official Ollantaytambo ruins included in the Cusco Tourist Ticket.

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Here’s what they looked like from the ruins across the town.

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On the opposite side of the town are the Pinkuylluna ruins that are free to hike. Here’s a view of them from while we were hiking the official ruins.

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Also, the hike entrance is less obvious than that of the official ruins. If it hadn’t been open, I think we wouldn’t have found it.

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We hiked one trail (left at the first fork) and part of another (instead right at the first fork) before it started to get steep and a little treacherous, seeing some beautiful views of the city and the other ruins.

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We also saw some interesting bugs and plants which, of course, I stopped to photograph.

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I also loved wandering the streets, as they were unique among the cities we visited, narrow with water from the mountains rushing down channels in the streets and plants and cacti growing over the tops of the low walls. Gorgeous!

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On our last night, we had dinner at Puka Rumi. I had Aji de gallina (shredded chicken stewed in an Andean sauce that typically includes chili peppers and local spices), which turned out to be one of my favorite meals on the trip. It was amazing!

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I also had a cup of cinnamon and clove tea and fell in love with the coffee mug. Unfortunately, when I tried to ask our hostess where I could buy a similar mug, I think I must have miscommunicated because she replied that I could find it in any shop and kindly gave me a couple of bags of tea (I think she thought I was asking about the tea rather than the mug). Oh, well!

Tips for your visit:

  • Roads don’t seem to be well-labeled here and Google Maps has incorrect information about Calle Principal, so navigate carefully and don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
  • Most places to stay here seem to be hostels. We stayed in a hostel with nice views of the official ruins, but it looks like there are also some pretty boutique hotels or hostels on the opposite side of the city that face the unofficial ruins.
  • This is a small town, so expect that markets and many businesses will be closed if you visit on a holiday.
  • Also, consider bringing a small flashlight just in case. And charge your phone ASAP when you get a chance. At one point during our visit, the power to the entire town went out. There wasn’t a storm or any other clear reason for it, and the person at the front desk of our hostel said it wasn’t common, but the candle that we were very fortunate to have in our room at the time looked like it had gotten a bit of use before that.

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